Autism: On Hair Washing

14 Oct

When I was a child, my parents were under the belief that a once in a week hair wash was sufficient. I never knew any different, and whether because I was a child, or because it was best for my scalp, I went through my childhood where the only times I felt irritated by my hair was when my mom was washing (in the sink) and blow drying it once a week.

My father was partial to long hair, and so my hair was allowed to grow throughout my childhood. That he liked my hair has been the cause of an internal battle throughout my life, but that is another story. My aunts also liked my hair, and the younger of the two especially would spend a lot of time playing with it as I grew.

While autistic people are known for their aversion to touch, I actually LOVED having my hair played with! I even liked it when the school nurses were combing through my hair looking for lice.

It wasn’t until my preteen years, when the kids at school started teasing me for being dirty, that I even considered that my hair should be washed more. Looking back, since my father was a chain smoker, and smoked both in the car and in the house with us present, I imagine I smelled pretty bad as a child – but I didn’t know.

My parents then started allowing us to shower every second day – but me being the obsessive person that I am, decided I must have been really dirty, and began washing daily… which then became twice a day, and by my mid teens was often three times daily – just to feel clean.

With the increase of showering, my head suddenly became very itchy. It took me over twenty years to link my itchy scalp with the frequency with which I washed my hair. It took me several more years to reduce the amount I washed it even down to once a day, and from there every other day… and still I worried that others would think I was disgusting.

Once I began washing my hair by myself, at about the age of ten or eleven, another issue came up. Every time the shampoo came down over my face, it would bubble as it got to my mouth, and I felt like I was drowning. Every time I washed my hair for the next ten to fifteen years (and this was often three times a day) I would be gasping for breath, and wondering if I would survive.

So the cost of fitting in for me, for just the sake of my hair alone, was a severely itchy scalp, and a daily fear of drowning.

In my twenties I got a hand held shower head, and learned that if I aimed it towards the back of my head, the shampoo would not flow down my face, and I would not feel like I was drowning. It took a long time.

By the time I was in my early thirties, my scalp was so itchy, that I was very frequently tempted to shave off my hair, and lather my head with lotion. In a past post I mentioned my obsession with lotion, that I use it on my hands at least 20 times a day… well, my scalp is a lot worse, and yet there is little I can do to ease the irritation. It doesn’t matter what shampoo or conditioner I use, my head is always irritated.

Still other people comment on how much they like my hair. I keep it long… I actually like my hair long, if I can push aside thoughts on how partial my father was to it – but the cost, again, is high.

So in the last several years I have further reduced the frequency of washing my hair. I have made it to four days, but often don’t get past the second… but it isn’t until the second day after washing that my scalp starts to settle. By the fourth my scalp feels so good – but my hair feel greasy. I have tried just washing the lower part of my hair, but somehow I always get it up high enough to annoy me. Also, if I don’t wash my scalp, I worry about what others will think.

I have tried going shampoo free (yes I know what they are calling it – but I can’t!) by washing with baking soda and vinegar, but my hair and head are so dry, this just exasperates the problem.

I have tried using natural shampoos free of sulfates, but they are just as harsh on my scalp, and cost so much more. I have used medicated shampoos, but they seem to make my hair fall out. I have tried treating my scalp with oil, but I have to wash my hair so much to stop it from being oily that I strip all that oil out, anyway (though it does feel really good while it is on.)

People tell me they like my hair… some even say they envy my hair… if only they knew.


Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Autism: Reality


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3 responses to “Autism: On Hair Washing

  1. threekidsandi

    October 14, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    My son also feels as if he were drowning if he gets water on his face. We are working on this slowly. No one explained to me HOW to wash my hair properly when I was little. I did it myself, and I didn’t learn how to do it properly (with fingertips on the scalp) until I was nearly thirty. I wish I had advice on some miracle product for you, but I have not, sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Angel the Alien

    October 15, 2015 at 12:29 am

    I hate having an itchy head! That sounds really annoying! I have sort of the opposite problem because if I DON’T wash my hair it starts to get really itchy. You’ve probably heard all of the suggestions ever, but I have a few… do you ever try just using “dry shampoo”, which you can buy in the store or just use cornstarch? Or baby shampoo? Or maybe even just water? I hope it gets better! That just sounds exasperating!


  3. Walkinfaith925

    October 15, 2015 at 9:51 am

    I have tried dry shampoo – but my hair and scalp are really dry to begin with, and it just makes it worse. I tried baby shampoo, but it seems to be harsher than some of the other stuff I have used. I have also tried just water, but my hair still feels dirty after. If I soak my hair in vinegar for 20 minutes, it looks amazing after – but rinsing with vinegar just doesn’t work, and soaking it so long makes my eyes and nose burn, as well as my skin. That, for the most part, isn’t worth it.



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